Feb 6, 2013 2:00pm PST
unjust acts of foreign policy against smaller states-- things we're all too familiar with in the modern west. but greek artists and poets understood these things about human nature, and they made their art about those contradictions, about the tragedies and failures as well as the achievements. the sculptures of the altar of zeus from pergamum portray those contradictions in the dramatic manner of the second century b.c., but like so much greek art, the originals have been dismembered and fragmented, scattered around the museums of the world or buried deep and forgotten. some works are wonderfully preserved on the site of their origin, but most have been broken and bleached by time. it takes imagination and study to piece together these fragments and try to see them in the context of the society in which they were produced. who made these images and objects? for whom? and why? what was in the artist's mind? the patron's? how were they seen by the surrounding society? we'll be helped in answering these questions by art historians like john boardman of the ashmolean museum, oxford.